The signatories to the Treaty of Rome – France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany – formed the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. The community enlarged in the second half of the twentieth century to create a single market founded on the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, services, people and money, and the broad dimensions of the present European Union (EU) were defined by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.
The EU currently comprises 28 countries and is the biggest regional economy and trading bloc in the world, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $18.46 trillion (2014), a population of 500 million, and Gross National Income per capita of more than $35 000. The annual value of both imports and exports between EU and non-EU countries is €1.7 trillion.
Internet penetration in the EU is high, with 80% of individuals using the Internet. On average, 67% of individuals use the Internet every day (compared with 31% in 2006). There are regional differences: 80% or more of individuals in Northern Europe, including Nordic countries, use the Internet daily, as opposed to fewer than 50% of individuals in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.
The EU is characterised by linguistic and cultural diversity. There are 24 official languages and, according to UNESCO estimates, more than 100 endangered languages across the region. Most of the official languages are Latin script, with the exception of Greek (Greek script) and Bulgarian (Cyrillic script). For speakers of Latin script languages, the ASCII character set, used in traditional domain names, does not present an essential barrier to understanding. Even though the character set for traditional ASCII domains is more limited – having no accents, diacritics or special characters – work-arounds have emerged in some languages, for example the convention of representing the “ü” with “ue”, so Müller becomes Mueller. The affinity with Latin script has led most ccTLDs in the region to deploy IDNs at the second level under ASCII TLDs.